Posts filed as 'BU at War'

The BUSMC Ltd: Its works and...


BU Its Works and Products; cover

We’ve recently been sent this fantastic book by Roger Grimes who lives in Kimberley, Nottingham. It belonged to Mr Arch Hallam who was the brother in law of James Grimes, Roger’s grandfather. His name is in the inside cover with Check No. 203, and it is dated August 1933.
The book has pictures of all the processes and machinery from various departments and branches with the machine operators; the first page has a picture of Mr Charles Bennion from a painting by R Grenville Eves dated 1928. It is a superb book to add to our collection, and tells us so much about not only BU, but life in Britain between the wars for working men and women.

BU Its Works and Products; inside cover

James Grimes was also employed at the BU, along with his brother-in-law Arch Hallam, and they worked there most of their working lives.

Roger’s father, also James Grimes, worked at BU for a period during WWII – probably on wartime production. Being a good draughtsman he often presented the company with drawings done at home, of his designs and ideas. One of these was taken up by BU, this was referred to at the time as ‘blind riveting’, I think we now refer to them as pot-rivets. The company paid him the princely sum of £10 -a generous amount at the time, he was told that his drawings were sent over to the US to develop his design into a working tool, and that BU held the patent on this.

Date posted: August 13, 2018

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Cecil Hampson


Christine Davies (nee Hampson) has shared with us the following wonderful memories of her dad, Cecil William Hampson (born 31.01.1903), and growing up in the shadow of BU. Days spent at the Mowacre Hill sports ground and evenings at the Institute. 

“My father, Cecil Hampson, joined the BUSMC when he left school at 14 and became a skilled grinder making sample parts for shoe machines which were sent all over the world. His machine was near the end window on the corner of Ross Walk and MacDonald Road, so I could see him when I walked by. As a little girl I would wave to him through the window and often walked to meet him from work. We lived in Hunter Road and our garden backed up to the Institute in Hildyard Road so I would wait to hear the buzzer before setting off as there was always a mass exodus from the gate; a rush of bodies eager to get out of the noisy factory. They came out on foot, by bike and all manner of vehicles so Ross Walk was quite a dangerous place at leaving off time. In later years. my then boyfriend, now my husband of 55 years, actually had an employee land on the bonnet of his car as he tried to run the gauntlet. Fortunately, the car was at a standstill as it was impossible to progress down the road with the mass of bodies exiting from the factory.

“I was always interested in what my father actually did and I do remember being taken inside the factory on one occasion to see the machines. Whether it was an open day, I am not quite sure as children were not allowed anywhere near the factory departments. I was most impressed that my father used industrial diamonds to grind the metal but disappointed when I saw this black stub of rock which was an industrial diamond and nothing like the one I eventually acquired in my engagement ring.

“It was a large thriving business in those days with a great emphasis on the welfare of its employees. My father took advantage of the many social amenities on offer for him. he was a very keen and skilled greens bowler and weekends were spent at the Mowmacre Hill sports ground where he played and won many trophies over the years. As a child, and later a teenager, I made many friends of other employees children and we would play cricket or explore the acres of grounds making our own fun and enjoying the fresh air. The bowlers wives also joined together and would accompany the teams when they played away getting together for lunch somewhere in the towns we visited. I loved these occasions and always had another members child to share the day.

Top row from the left Arthur Ball, Dick Guest, Ron Barston, Taffy Morgan, Jack Nown (one of twins to brother Frank), ?, ?, ? Seated from the left Jack Lingham, Charlie Collins, Mr James ,? ,My Father, Frank Webster, ?

Top row from the left
Arthur Ball, Dick Guest, Ron Barston, Taffy Morgan, Jack Nown (one of twins to brother Frank), ?, ?, ?.
Seated from the left
Jack Lingham, Charlie Collins, Mr James,?, My Father, Frank Webster, ?.

“As I got older I took a great interest in tennis and when the magnificent tennis courts were not being used by members, I was able to play with anyone who was available and happy to play with me. It was there that I met Mark Cox, the son of another employee and who became well known as a British international player playing in the Davis Cup and at Wimbledon. We would often play together, being of a similar age, although I have to say that members of the tennis section were not quite as welcoming towards us as other sections were. I always felt that they believed they were the more upmarket section. Mark was lucky because his parents both played tennis and he was soon spotted by the LTA and taken under their wing to be coached to become the player we knew in his mature years.

“As the days drew to an end the members would congregate in the sports pavilion at the grounds where there was an excellent bar. Most people brought a light supper with them and the evenings often ended with a singsong. On special occasions the whole population would get together and bring items of food so that all sections joined together for a party. This was particularly noticeable between the cricket and bowling sections of the club.

“My father also used the facilities of the Institute, it being just around the corner from our house. During the war, the building and the factory were camouflaged to fool the aeroplanes looking to bomb munitions factories. My father remained at home during the war as he was making munitions at the factory and his job had reserved status. He became an ARP warden often on night duty looking out for overhead activity and supporting the home guard. He would go to the Institute for a drink with friends or play snooker on the wonderful tables that were provided and as a little girl I attended the fantastic Christmas parties for members children. These took place in the magnificent ballroom which I later frequented on a regular basis for their Saturday night dances. My mother and father had always enjoyed the Old Tyme dances and which I was allowed to go to as a child. It was the highlight of the week. Each year I was allowed a new long dress and a velvet cape to attend these. I thought I was the ‘bees knees’. Later I was asked to sell tickets for the modern dances and given a free one if I sold 10 each week. These tickets were greatly prized by my friends because the facilities were so good so it was never difficult to sell 10 each week. It was there that I met my future husband who had been invited by a close friend.

“My father continued to work for the BUSMC for almost 50 years having been a member of the Quarter Century Club, but had to retire just short of this due to ill health thereby missing out on the gold watch given to employees with 50 years service. By that time I was married and had moved to Worcester where my husband was an architect and I was a Headteacher, so my parents sold their house in Hunter Rad and moved to Malvern to be near us so we could help if needed when my father wasn’t well. They lived for a long time in Malvern which my father loved, their bungalow having views of the Malvern Hills, but eventually came to live with us as he needed more help. However, in spite of failing health, he survived happily until the age of 86 still talking about his days with the BUSMC which had a great influence on his life. I was really saddened when I learnt that the company had finished altogether. It was then one of the few companies that knew how to look after its employees and had a happy workforce. I am afraid these are now few and far between.”

Cecil Hampson on the far right.

Cecil Hampson on the far right of the photo

Date posted: November 26, 2017

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Frederick Burton


Tony Burton writes from Glasgow… “Hello, my grandfather Frederick Burton, 1884-1959, was employed as a sheet metal worker at the BUSM Co. He continued to work for them during the war and told me that they built a mock farm on the roof and glass panels on the nearby Rushy Fields to confuse the German bombers. I think Fred was a foreman but I know little more about his work.
Do you have any information on the sheet metal workers at the company or any information on what went on during the second world war?”

If you can assist Tony please send an email to


Date posted: September 24, 2017

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This plaque from 1914 contains the names of all those BU workers who went off to war (220 names I think). A massively important item. Incredibly, and disgustingly, it was left to rot in the old BU headquarters by the last owners (APAX partners – they’re still around!).

Thankfully it was found and rescued from the Ross Walk site by Matt (pictured left) and Rick. They have donated the plaque to the At Risk War Memorial Trust. “It can now be enjoyed by the people of Leicester for good.”


Roll of Honour



Date posted: November 26, 2016

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Ray Davis


Ray Davis

Ray started with BU in 1945, aged 14; mostly running errands around the factory.

He left to do national service and returned afterwards, to the Tool Room, where this photo was taken in the mid 1950s. Ray’s still got all that hair – Just a different colour now!

Date posted: March 21, 2016

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BU lads and men who enlisted in...



Roll of Honour


Over 200 names on this Roll of Honour. By the following year BU had become a ‘controlled establishment’ which restricted the outflow of workers joining the armed forces as the company became more involved in the production of materials for the war effort – Shells, naval gun mountings, aero engine parts, and of course heavy-duty boots for troops at the front.

Disgracefully this plaque had to be rescued from an abandoned BU building; this is how little regard the final owners of the company (APAX Partners) had for the memory of all those brave Leicester people who were prepared to join-up and risk their lives for their country. Many did not come back. Bless them all.

(Thank you Matt Donut for this picture).


Date posted: August 6, 2014

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Sad News


With much sadness we have received news of the death of Frank Smith, aged 95, on Friday December 13th 2013.

Frank’s funeral takes place at 10am on Thursday January 10th at St Thomas More Church on Knighton Road, Leicester.

Frank wearing the President's Chain for the Quarter Century Club

Frank joined BU aged 14 in 1934 as an errand boy. He then began an apprenticeship in engineering, what Frank described as his saving grace, as it set him up for so many things in life.

He joined the army at the outbreak of the Second World War and was involved at Dunkirk and later in Burma. Incredibly he rose to the rank of Major by the end and was awarded the MBE for bravery in action.

Frank Smith during the War

Frank returned to BU after the war and worked in the drawing office, experimental design office and shoe material research department. It was during these 30 or so post war years that BU reached its zenith, dominating the world shoe machinery market. The excellence and sophistication of it’s products, developed and produced in house, were unrivalled. Frank was invited to join the BU Board of Management in 1978, and in 1979 he was president of the Quarter Century Club. He retired in 1981 – 48 years at BU, minus seven serving in the forces.

Frank’s wife Marjorie pre-deceased him. Together they had seven children and lived in the Knighton area of Leicester. Our condolences to all his family.

In 2012 Frank recorded his memories of life and BU, and these can be heard on the BU history website. It was such a pleasure to meet Frank; his intelligence and kindness and strength shined brightly.

Date posted: December 16, 2013

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Graham Beck


Graham Beck recalls his family connection with BU.Negative

Just before the Great War my Grandfather, William Underwood (pictured left, seated with moustache), was sent by BU to Paris in order to instruct employees of a French company on the workings of BU machines. Unfortunately he was of similar stature and build to Count Bismark the German Chancellor. Since tensions were running high between the countries the French police arrested William thinking him a German spy. He spoke no French and they no English so he spent many hours in custody.

Graham’s mother, Gladys, is also in the photo above, the youngest girl to her dad’s left. She worked in the secretarial pool and married Cyril Beck, another BU man – Of course! Remarkably after their marriage Gladys was allowed to stay on at BU. Prior to this married women were not allowed to work at BU!

Graham’s two Uncles on his mothers side, Wilf and Alf, also in the photo above, joined BU before later moving away. Wilf to the Bristol depot and Alf to London – both Quarter Century Club men. Operatic

Cyril Beck, Graham’s father spent all his working life at BU. First as an Engineer, then an Engineer Inspector, and then into the Technical Office. In the late 1940s he joined the BU Male Voice Choir and my mother and I went all over the Midlands to both competitions and concerts. He was a choir member up until he retired in 1962 and can be seen in the photo on the far right of the third row back, wearing glasses. He was also a member of the Quarter Century Club.

Date posted: November 21, 2013

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Bill Taylor


Elaine Taylor has sent us the following great memories of her dad, Bill, a long time BU man.

“He started as an apprentice, I think in the early 1930s and retired sometime in the late 1970s if my memory is correct. He was a tool maker by trade,and was in a reserved occupation durring the 2nd World War, when the BU was heavily involved in producing munitions. He progressed to being foreman of H department and eventually Works Manager. He loved the British United with a passion, and cared for all his colleagues. I remember as a child going to the BU on a Christmas Day morning with Dad to take a glass of whiskey with the various gentlemen who looked after the gatehouses and had to be on duty. Does anyone else out there have any memories we can share? I also worked there in various capacities as a student, and also spent a year in the Insurance department with the charming Mike Broughton who was a a wonderful boss to have in your first job.

Date posted: October 10, 2013

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Frank Smith


Frank on retirement, 1981

Frank Smith (DoB, 20th October 1918), interviewed in July 2012, recalls his life and work at BU.

Starting with the desperately sad death of his father in World War One, one month before his birth, and concluding with the summing up remark ‘Been Busy’.

Frank’s Story

News of Appointment to the Board

Track 1 (9.05)

0.12, Lived in Loughborough. Recalls the sad death of his father in WW1 a month before he was born

0.30, Lived just with his mother until 10 years old. Mother met a chap who was a knife-smith who worked in the Knife Shop at the BU.

0.58, At the BU they used large 4 inch knives to cut thick sole leather

1.30, Frank’s mother married again; to Herbert Arnold; who already had three children. They moved to new house in Leicester on Turnbull Drive.


2.05, Frank moved school during scholarship year, went to Folville Rise in Braunstone, but didn’t get the A1 grade needed for grammar school, instead he went to intermediate school.

3.25, When he was 14 Frank was taken to the BU where a number of simple tests took place

4.00, First job at the BU; Errand Boy in 1932. Assigned to a works department at 12 shillings a week, for 48 and a half hours (2.96 pence per hour!).

5.25, Family men were earning £3 week –  £3’10 shillings with bonuses


5.54, Frank’s saving grace was the apprentice scheme.

6.22, Invited to be apprentice. Two full days at technical college, plus three evenings a week (7-9.30) in your own time.

7.25, Assigned to X Department. Not production, but design for new machinery. Huge variety of tasks. Great for learning and training. Something of everything.

9.05, Record ends.

Track 2 (5.43)

Born in Loughborough 20/10/18. Coming up to 94 years of age. Moved to Leicester in 1928 and started at the BU in 1932.

1.06, Frank knew of BU before starting there. Of Mr Klee, who ran the knife shop. Of the Bennions, and Bennion and Pearson. On the front of Union works, by MacDonald Road, there was an inscription to these men.

2.35, There were two major shoe machinery firms in Leicester then. Gimson was the other (later became Bostik), on Ulverscroft Road, which later amalgamated with the BU.

3.40, Claude Bennion, MD, introduced the Quarter Century Club scheme. £100 gift when you became a member. Which bought a £99 Ford car then. That figure hardly rose.

4.33, The American USM had amalgamated with the BU previously. Still US foremen about; Mr Hussey in charge of the Milling dept.

5.43, Recording ends.

Track 3 (6.29)


Frank Smith during the War

0.50, The Government brought in conscription for all men over 20 years of age. In the services or in the mines.

1.40, Many 19 year old young men (every walk of life) joined the Territorial Army, including Frank.

2.30, Joined an Artillery battery; lack of uniform. Spring 1939.

War declared

3.22, Summer camp for two weeks. Still paid by BU. Back to work on Monday morning then on Friday night of that week – Called up. War declared on the Sunday.

4.10, Shipped off to France in Jan 1940. Equipment was all relics from WW1.

5.04, After Dunkirk. Back in UK, all BU conscripts offered chance to return to factory as new fighting machinery needed. 80% did. Frank stayed on, as a gun fitter. Knew only one other man who did. He was glad he did.

6.29, Recording ends.

Track 4 (8.25)

BU took on about a dozen Cambridge engineering graduates every year. Ensured the future backbone of the company – along with qualified apprentices.

0.55, Technical college (later DeMontfort Uni) training was very good; almost up to degree standard.

1.43, This training helped Frank in the army and helped him get commissioned. As well as better set when returned to BU post war.

2.20, Time in the Forces. From France to India as Seargeant. Then Ceylon, then officer training. Then Indian Army Ordnance Corps on NW frontier. Made Captain, in the Indian army.

5.45, Moved across road to Burma, held up by floods at Karampur. Posted on to another division in Burma.  A workshop company. Chittagong then Burma proper. 70 men to command. Their main role was maintaining guns for an infantry brigade

8.12, Three years service there, till end of war.

8.25, Recording ends.


Track 5 (0.51)

Flurry of bicycles; bicycle racks

0.25, Only the directors had cars at the BU

0.29, Belgrave Road looked like the Tour de France

0.36, Getting your bike wheel jammed in the tram lines

0.51, Recording ends.

Track 6 (9.36)

Total service of 48 years at the BU. (subtract seven years for war service and pre apprenticeship) Returned to BU in ’46 or ’47.

Career at BU after the war

0.35, Given full training programme on return. Wages back to £6.19 shillings and sixpence after receiving a Major’s salary in the army

1.28, Initially put in the Drawing Office. Followed by the Experimental Drawing Office.

2.08, Joined the company pension scheme. 5s a week it cost.

3.33, 1951. Moved into the chemical side of things from mechanical engineering. Describes the different components used in the factory. Frank had a small development team for all these tasks.

6.48, The BU wanted a new machine for impregnating and coating base materials. Many specialist jobs like this. Ideas into production units. 12 years working here.

9.38, Recording ends.

Track 7 (3.25)

Transferred to shoemaking machinery side from accessories research.

0.25, Three research sections; Upper Machinery; top parts of shoe and sewing and sticking together; then Closing. Then Lasting, the shaping of the shoe upper into shoe form.

1.30, Frank had Section 1. Lasting. 1962-76.

3.25, Recording ends.

Frank standing behind Charles Bennion

Track 8 (6.44)

Later years

0.30, ‘FS’ team – George Barton, chief designer; Phil Reader, assistant manager.

0.56, Test fitters role.

1.25, Helped design a new automatic machine that won a gold medal in Leipzig. Alas gold plated, not solid gold.

2.10, 1979. Asked to be President of the Quarter Century Club.

3.20, QCC Annual dinner. About 1500 people attended. Used to be at Granby Halls, but moved to DeMontfort Hall in Frank’s year.

4.30, Handed over presidency to Tom White

4.40, Continued managing Lasting dept research then promoted to Technical Manager; therefore left research dept. Was responsible for Works drawing office, time setting office, all technical functions, and appointed to board of management, although not a director. Tim Watts appointed at the same time.

6.20, Four years there until retirement in 1981.

6.44, Recording ends.

Handing over the reins...

Track 9 (3.30)

Retirement – Demise of BU after Frank retired

0.20, New director brought in at BU, Burton.

1.00, Retired as an ‘Emhart pensioner’, as this was the owner of BU at that point.

1.30, Emhart bought out in 1990s by Black and Decker and then Frank became a B & D pensioner. Soon got a good rise! But nothing since 1997!

2.12, Then followed a management buy out in the late 90s. Business diminishing due to foreign competition. Gradual closure and disappearance.

3.30, Recording ends

Track 10 (1.18)

Frank wearing the President's Chain for the Quarter Century Club

Retirement – Frank’s son was working in a shoe factory in Blaby. Frank helped there for a year or two. Then that factory closed.

0.40, Since then mostly doing reading, painting water colours and watching sport on TV. And caravanning with his wife.

1.15, ‘Been busy.’

1.18, Recording ends.

Date posted: June 11, 2013

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